COVID-19 is a time of heightened stress for everyone, with many unknowns and times of uncertainty. Routines have been disrupted. People with busy lives have been stuck at home with much less to do. The loss of structure has been challenging.
Your daughters’ have returned to school after a period away and the end of the year is fast approaching. Navigating a new beginning at the end of 2020 is another unique first-time experience for us all. This brings both challenges and new possibilities.
Everyone has been forced to decompress
in some way, to try and manage the impact and pressure brought about by COVID-19. We have had to make continual compromises to compensate, perhaps getting less sleep, feeling more irritable and not behaving with our usual manners. The usual natural sequences of relating and doing things has been disrupted. We have had to adapt continually and compensate for all those “usual things” that we ordinarily would have done.
Take the time to reflect:
- What are the most important things that give my life routine and meaning?
- Am I now able to do some of these things?
- If not, what’s different now?
You could perhaps talk with your daughters about this too.
The Challenge of Distance
Social distancing has been necessary to help prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19, but it also comes with added difficulties. It separates many people from the supports on which they rely, it may confine them at home in a relatively small space, sometimes with people with whom they may have had conflict.
People have also been restricted from activities which they may have successfully used to cope; e.g. exercise, socialising with groups of friends, going out to movies.
Reviewing coping strategies
As we emerge from the restrictions your daughters may need support and encouragement to reconnect with their broader support network or to recommence activities that were part of their coping strategies. It may be that they review the value of particular friendships but it is important that they keep in mind the impact of isolation on others and consider with compassion and understanding the actions of others.
While most people have difficulty with extended periods of uncertainty, some people can tend to be more rigid and can have trouble with flexibility, this challenge of maintaining flexibility can become greater.
During times of stress, people automatically tend to revert to their past coping strategies. If some of these coping strategies have not been as available then people may look to be in control by trying in different ways.
Navigating a new identity
Another effect of having been in isolation may be feeling an erosion of sense of one’s own identity. Your daughter may feel they have missed out on a lot of their day to day informal communications with their peers or teachers. Hence, your daughter may have had to come up with some compromises for themselves i.e. had to shut down some expectations whilst managing sustained pressure on themselves.
Now it’s time they are “coming up for some more air”. It will be important that they “come up slowly” to re-integrate back to their usual activities, interactions with their peers, teachers, and other social connections. You, and they may still feel tired and irritable. It will be valuable to take time in re-integrating back into daily life of school, work, socialising.
Family Coping Strategies:
Accept your feelings and know that you are not alone
Remember that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and not fully in control as you may ordinarily. We can all feel this way at one time or another. This is an unprecedented time that none of us have dealt with before.
Allow space to mourn your losses
Whether you couldn’t spend as much time with those you love – family/friends, a family member who has lost their job, or you who lost your part-time work for now. We have all had to manage losses right now. Allow yourself space to grieve and experience the whole range of emotions that ensue.
Stay connected to your support system. Now more than ever, we need our supports. Even though we’re social distancing, we are social beings who need connection. Now we can again slowly socialise in person whilst we can keep up the online connections with family, friends.
Keep a routine
Most people do better with structure. Create and keep a routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, and doing something every day that feels productive. Your new routine should include regular mealtimes — this is very important for everyone.
Find activities that bring you joy or develop a skill. Engaging in such activities is a way to prevent low mood and reduce stress.
Try to incorporate as many activities of your “former” life. If there was something you were doing before, see if you can find an equivalent.
Include 3 meals a day and 2 to 3 snacks evenly spaced throughout the day. You should always have a general idea of what and when your next meal or snack will be. This applies to everyone.
Make sure to plan meals that are satisfying physically and emotionally.
Staying emotionally satisfied and nourished will help stabilize your blood sugar levels, mood, and emotional coping.
It’s not surprising if you have been feeling overwhelmed and soothed yourself with food. Accept that eating to self-soothe can be a wise way to cope. You may have also utilised other less helpful ways to manage but view these actions with self kindness and understanding.
However, if it’s become your only coping skill it can be helpful to learn to utilise some other coping skills too. Try to resist urges to compensate.
Consider moderate exercise
Although you may have been separated from your gym, perhaps now can think about going back, walk or run outside, hike away from crowds. Try to keep it fun.
Addressing body image
Time at home may have provided a temporary respite for those who feared being judged about their appearance. Limit body checking and judgement.
Challenge diet culture
Do not make jokes about how much weight you or others may have gained being in isolation. This can add unnecessarily to people’s worries. Weight stigma is a health risk factor that doesn’t need to be added to the pile.
Practice or Learn New Coping Skills
Try to get regular sleep
Spend some time outdoors when you can. Do some meditation or relaxation. Take time to rest. Be patient with yourself. Having a toolkit of coping skills can help you and your daughter better manage the stress they feel.
Asking for help
If your daughter has been experiencing increased anxiety, lower mood, eating less or more than they ordinarily would - now is a good time to reach out. Encourage them to talk to trusted adult family member, family friend, Carer, Class Teacher, Home Group Teacher, Tutor, Co-ordinator, Boarding House Supervisor or MLC Counsellor.
Remind your daughters to be kind to themselves and that it’s OK to re-integrate back to school and their other activities at their pace and their time.
Some online resources:
Bite back (Black dog institute’s mental fitness challenge for youths)
Virtual Hope Box (coping tools)
Calm (meditation and relaxation, including music/stories for sleep)
SAM (relaxation skills)
Breathe2Relax (breathing exercises)
Stop, breathe & think (relaxation skills)
Check-in (how to check-in with friends you’re concerned about)
Thrive (games to track mood with skills to reduce anxiety)
Tactical breather (breathing exercises)
Smiling Mind (meditation)
Worry Time (Reach Out’s app for postponing and expressing worries)
Down Dog (yoga app)
Free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 – call 1800 55 1800.
Phone service for parents and carers of children from birth to 18 years old. Parent line offers confidential and anonymous counselling and support on parenting issues - call 13 22 89.
Victoria’s 24/7 family violence support service for women and children – call 1800 015 188.
Provides links to trusted Australian online and phone supports, resources and treatment options.
Provides information, support and services to young people, aged 12-25 years, and their families and friends across Australia. eHeadspace provides an on-line counselling service.
Beyond Blue's dedicated site for youth. Information, resources and support for young people dealing with depression and/or anxiety.
Written by Anita Hallam on behalf of MLC Counselling Team